Public or Private

Public or Private

Supervisors examine which county services to outsource.

The majority of the Board of Supervisors appears adamant in their opposition to raising taxes in next year’s county budget. As a result, Loudoun officials say, the county government will most likely place a greater emphasis on privatizing and outsourcing services.

Outright privatization and outsourcing will save the county funds, helping to keep taxes at reasonable rates, said Kirby Bowers, county administrator.

“With resources tight,” Bowers said, “we need to do more facilitation of private efforts that in the past the local government has done exclusively.”

Government services that may be outsourced or privatized include mental health programs, animal control, programs for the hungry and the homeless, and transportation.

Essentially, Loudoun County would enter into more partnerships with businesses and non-profit community organizations. For example, the county could privatize animal shelters, saving the county money. On the other side of the partnership, proponents said, the business — in this case an animal shelter — would operate more efficiently.

“It goes without saying that if the private sector can do something, we’re going to look into that,” said Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles)

Public-private partnerships have worked for Loudoun County in the past, Bowers said, citing the success of the Dulles Greenway, a private toll road project that was facilitated by the county.

MAURICE McTIGUE, a public policy professor at George Mason University who specializes in competitive sourcing issues, said Loudoun’s potential strategy is feasible, but has had mixed results elsewhere.

The key, McTigue said, is for the Loudoun government to consider each potential service individually because governments are better at providing certain services, while the private sector might do a better job with others.

“They should have everything on the table,” he said. “They should look at it carefully and choose carefully what is best for Loudoun County.”

A common misperception is that the private sector will also operate more efficiently than government, McTigue said. In some cases, such as with regulation, private businesses simply wouldn’t provide the service because it negatively affects their bottom line.

In other cases, such as having the Salvation Army provide services to low-income families, the partnership can work more efficiently, McTigue said.

Part of this is because governments operate by allocating funds and the bureaucracy then implements the program or service. Private organizations, on the other hand, take much greater care in accounting for how each penny is spent.

BOARD VICE CHAIRMAN Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) echoed many of McTigue’s views about privatization and outsourcing government services. Some services are provided more efficiently by government, whereas other services are better provided by the private sector.

“This is all about efficiency,” he said. “We want to become a more efficient government for the people.”

And by outsourcing and privatization, said Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), the Board of Supervisors can remove huge chunks of funding from the county budget.

“The emphasis is to outsource wherever we can,” Delgaudio said. “There’s no end to the privatizing opportunities.”

Delgaudio said the Board of Supervisors can privatize services by designating non-profit organizations “Social Action Agencies,” enabling the organization to tap into federal grants. This saves the county money and allows the non-profit to beef up its budget, increasing the quality of the service provided.

“All of the sudden, our Social Action Agencies become multi-million dollar operations,” Delgaudio said.

NOT ALL supervisors are cheerleaders for outsourcing government services and increasing privatization efforts. Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said private organizations tend to cut corners because of their profit motives. If the organization is providing a service, this can lead to disaster, he said.

“Business is trying to make a profit, government is trying to provide a service to the public,” he said. “There’s a difference between the two.”

Burton pointed to a southwest Virginia county that tried to privatize its landfill. The landfill project fell apart, leaving the county with a clean-up bill that far outweighed the original maintenance costs.

“In a lot of cases, the private sector may be more efficient, but not always,” Burton said.